Do you have days when everything seems to be happening at once, when everyone is in need of your attention, when you just can’t catch up with your to-do list? In our busy, multi-tasking lives, stress is almost unavoidable. And that’s not always a bad thing. Stress can be a positive force to help you stay focused and energized. Persistent daily stress, however, can lead to emotional or stress eating and make it harder for you to lose weight. How does that kind of stress affect you and what can you do about it? Here’s what you need to know.
The Stress Effect and Weight Loss
Our bodies developed stress responses to prepare us to deal with outside threats and dangerous situations. When trouble arises, we produce adrenaline, which elevates our heart rate and gives us a burst of energy that fuels our “flight or fight” reactions, says Harvard Health Publishing. After the danger is over, the adrenaline wears off and we return to normal.
These days, much of our stress is driven by internal conditions—demands from work and family, worries about money or our health and concerns about what’s going on in the world around us. When we are stressed for days on end, our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, “women with high waist/hip ratios, regardless of body mass index, were more likely to display higher stress-induced cortisol levels.” Women with high stress-induced cortisol levels have also been shown to eat more snack food. Researchers also state, “chronically elevated cortisol levels, and high cortisol levels are associated with abdominal obesity in both nonhuman primates and humans.”
Stress also affects our daily choices. Many of us turn to food for comfort, eating even when we’re not hungry. What’s worse, stress can lead to emotional eating, causing us to indulge in foods that are high in fat, sugar or both, according to several studies cited in a report by Harvard Health Publishing. Cortisol can lead to increased appetite and sugar cravings, as well as changes in your metabolism, making it difficult to lose weight. Stressed out people also are more likely to drink alcohol, often in larger quantities. Alcohol comes with lots of calories but no nourishment, and it breaks down your resistance to unhealthy food options.
Stress tends to disrupt our sleep, too. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Two hormones that help regulate hunger—ghrelin and leptin—are affected by sleep: Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep-deprived, the level of ghrelin spikes, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger.” This means that missing out on shuteye can lead to overeating and weight gain.
How to Stress Less
Eliminating stress from your life isn’t easy but you can take steps to reduce it and help yourself feel and look better. You can try simple steps to reduce stress, like getting more sleep, drinking less alcohol or coffee, meditation and regular exercise.
You’re probably already aware that regular, low-impact aerobic exercise speeds up your metabolism, which helps you shed extra pounds faster. That’s why we recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day on the Nutrisystem weight loss plan. However, light physical activity can also reduce the negative effects of stress, says Mayo Clinic. When you’re active, you burn off nervous energy and your body produces a dose of mood-lifting endorphins. Exercise can also help you to sleep more soundly. Walking briskly for 30 minutes daily—or three 10-minute walks—is enough activity to help you reduce stress and boost weight-loss.
Many people find that setting aside time each day to focus on their breathing, quiet their thoughts and release tension helps ease stress. If sitting still isn’t comfortable for you, you might want to try Tai Chi, an easy-to-learn practice that is like meditation in motion. Check out YouTube for videos on meditation and Tai Chi.
Eat well and practice mindful eating.
You can’t control the outside world. However, you can do one thing each day to feel good and get ready to face whatever happens. “Good nutrition is an important stress management tool. When our bodies are poorly fed, stress takes an even greater toll on our health. Nutrition and stress are interlinked,” says The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They recommend eating regularly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable, as well as eating healthy omega-3 fats, plenty of vegetables, high-fiber foods and healthy snacks filled with protein and fiber.
Start by planning healthy meals that fuel your body with all the nutrients it needs. Fill up your grocery list with fresh, non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins and high-fiber options to complement your healthy Nutrisystem meal plan. Remember to eat regularly and keep your meals and snacks spaced out every two to three hours. Remind yourself that even on the roughest days, you’re still on your way to a healthier, happier you.
*Always speak with your doctor if you are feeling overly stressed.